As countries continue to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, universities in England are fearing loss of thousands of international students this Autumn because of lack of quarantine facilities, which may further lead to loss of revenue.
Students arriving in England from red list in September will be required to isolate themselves for 10 days. However, business and education leaders have warned that there might soon be a shortage of accommodation.
The Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, wrote to the government requesting it to expand quarantine hotel facilities as well as relax travel and visa restrictions for students so that arrivals can be pushed to next year.
As per the data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, a total of 556,625 international students studied in the UK in 2019-20, out of which 107,000 were from red list countries.
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UCAS data and other reports suggest that the numbers this year may be at the similar or higher level.
The government of the country said that thousands of rooms in quarantine facilities were available for anticipated demand. However, it did not give any specific figure. A senior leader in the travel industry mentioned there were close to 40,000 rooms for the purpose.
University leaders and MPs added that they had thought of the current capacity to be lower, which could cause problems if the needs of other international travellers were to be included.
Higher education institutions have been struggling to assess the impact of Covid-19 travel restrictions and its impact on international admissions, on which they rely for income.
President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs Lord Karan Bilimoria said if the number of students coming from red-list countries reaches close to the 2019-20 academic year, it would exceed the currently available quarantine capacity.
Under current visa requirements, international students starting this Autumn need to arrive in the UK by September 27 in order to be considered for the new Graduate Route.
Labour chair of the all party parliamentary group Paul Blomfield said the government should take measures to make visa requirements more flexible, so they do not lose their right to stay. Further, they must do so without incurring additional costs of flights and accommodation changes.
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Universities UK International commented it was hopeful that further concessions will be made to make the process easier. The UK government has acted swiftly to meet the needs of international students amid the pandemic.
The Department of Education added that hotel quarantine was a necessary step to combat the spread of new Covid variants and that visa concessions will ensure students benefit from it even if their arrival is delayed.
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